Trochees are the exact opposite of iambic pentameter, meaning that the first syllable is stressed and the second is unstressed. The word “trochee” comes from the Greek meaning “to run”. Most commonly you will find trochees associated with trochaic tetrameter. This is when there are four sets of two beats per line.
It looks like this when the scansion is written out:
Trochee: / U
Examples of Trochaic Meter in Poetry
Example #1 The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
It can be combined, just as the iamb can, with any number of syllables. Let’s take a look at the first line from ‘The Raven’ by Edgar Allen Poe which is almost entirely written in trochaic tetrameter. This means that each line contains four, rather than five, sets of beats. The first, as stated above, is going to be stressed and the second unstressed.
/ U / U / U / U / U / U / U / U
And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
There are three other common ways in which syllables can be arranged. They can be spondaic, dactylic, or anapestic. In contrast to the last two arrangements of syllables, the two latter forms depend on the syllables coming in sets of threes.
Example #2 Sorrow by Edna St. Vincent Millay
‘Sorrow’ is a solid example of trochaic meter. It is also an example of catalexis. This pattern makes perfect sense for the subject matter of the poem.Take a look at the second stanza from the poem:
Example #3 In Memory of W.B. Yeats by W.H. Auden
This three-part poem that is dedicated to William Butler Yeats makes use of the trochaic pattern in the final section. This is the part of the poem that is most elegaic in nature. Take a look at this stanza from the poem:
In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.
This is an interesting example as the last syllable from each line is unstressed. This was done in order to keep the rhyme consistent, a technique known as catalexis.
Why Trochaic Meter?
There are several reasons why a poet might choose to utilize trochees. It is composed of what is known as a “falling rhythm,” this refers to the fact that the stress happens first and then the unstressed beat falls from it. This kind of meter is slower, but with a momentum that leads the reader forward. It is often used to increase the drama of verse, such as in ‘The Raven’ by Edgar Allan Poe and ‘The Tyger’ by William Blake.